Having connected cars is a key enabler for self-driving cars, which are taking the wheel, paving the way for hands-free driving. Also known as autonomous vehicles, these cars operate themselves and are capable of sensing their environment with little to no human interaction.
Despite the rapid technological advances and predictions that the autonomous vehicle global market is expected to reach $36 billion by just 2025 according to Business Wire, self-driving cars continue to be tested and enhanced.
Three researchers from FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing are researching the language that cars, including self-driving ones, require to stay connected and communicate with each other while on the road.
Through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $500,000, Ahmed Ibrahim, assistant professor; Elias Alwan, assistant professor; and Kemal Akkaya, professor and director of research for Cybersecurity@FIU, an emerging preeminent program, are building a vehicle-to-vehicle communication framework for a safer and more efficient driving experience. Neighboring vehicles will exchange information among each other related to safety, as well as infotainment, media that provides a combination of information and entertainment.
The team’s vision is to design and authorize a vehicular communication system that can provide high data-rate, low-latency, or minimal delay, and security utilizing the millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequency band, which includes 30-300 gigahertz.
Potentially saving lives by avoiding human error and giving people with special needs the means to travel are reasons why Ibrahim ventured into this project.
“Having connected vehicles that communicate with each other, as well as with highway infrastructure, is vital to the success of many groundbreaking transformations taking place in the automotive industry,” said Ibrahim. “As for self-driving vehicles, they cannot depend on their internal measurement units alone and need to communicate with neighboring vehicles.”
Each researcher is bringing their area of specialty into play.
The process begins with Alwan, an expert in antennas, radio frequency systems and secure 5G communication systems. Alwan is fabricating a small, compact antenna array to integrate seamlessly into the body of the car. The goal is to make the antennas functional, by having them display video and data in real-time, but not interfere with the aesthetic of the vehicle.
Now, how do the antennas communicate with each other? That’s where Ibrahim steps in; his research interests include wireless communication and networking. Ibrahim is working on numerous systems within this communication framework.
One system is called cooperative vehicular communication, which refers to a vehicle facilitating communication with another vehicle, acting as a mediator. A second system enables the receiving of data from another vehicle while sending data, allowing the vehicle to “talk” and "listen" at the same time.
“Time is critical,” Ibrahim said. “We also have a security component to detect jamming."
Akkaya, program director of FIU’s Internet of Things bachelor’s degree, is using machine learning and software-defined networking to have self-driving vehicles make intelligent decisions when choosing what communication interface or network to use. Options include LTE, Wi-Fi and millimeter-wave.
“Let’s say you’re the passenger in the self-driving car and you want to stream a video. The car would automatically choose the millimeter-wave interface because of its larger bandwidth,” Akkaya said. “A passenger wouldn’t need to make any decisions. The self-driving car looks at the data and chooses the right interface.”
Similar to a computer network that is assigned an internet protocol (IP) address, a unique physical address (also known as a MAC address) would be assigned to each self-driving car’s on-board unit while it is still at the factory. This is essential for identifying vehicles that are communicating with one another while on the road.
The three-year grant has also benefited engineering students, like Sandhiya Govindarajulu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who received a best student paper award at the 2019 International Workshop of Antenna Technology (iWAT) Conference for her research on 5G millimeter wave vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Alwan serves as Govindarajulu’s major advisor.
The duration of the grant is for three years. The researchers will present their theoretical results, test-beds and proof of concept upon completing the grant.